Cotton Court Business Centre

Productivity

Managing Small Business Stress

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Stress is something that all of us have to deal with at various parts of our lives. Some of us are more susceptible than others, and everyone deals with it in different ways.

Stress is your body’s way of responding to dangers, threats and demands. The chemicals released prepare your body to react, and kick your body into its fight, flight or freeze response. At one point it helped our ancestors deal with ongoing threats like sabre-tooth tigers and competitor tribes. 

Whilst some stress can be good, and indeed some people thrive from having small amounts of stress in their lives, in larger doses or over a prolonged period of time it can have serious consequences on your mental and physical wellbeing, and there are even significant links between stress and serious diseases such as cancer.

This Monday saw the launch of International Stress Awareness week. A week organised by the International Stress Management Association to raise awareness of the condition, as well as promote stress prevention and wellbeing.

If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, you will be no stranger to regular bouts of stress. Like me, you’ve no doubt at some point been sat on the floor with your head in your hands wondering what the hell you’re doing in business or how you’re going to get out of whatever pickle you’re in.

Every part of your business has the potential to increase your stress levels and give you sleepless nights. Whether it’s a lack of new customers, HR issues, competitors or one of the many other working parts of your operation, your mind will constantly be ticking over.

The bottom line is, owning or operating a business is stressful. The sooner you learn to manage that stress or even make it work to your advantage the better. Because it’s always going to come back!

I spin many plates across my personal and professional life. I have days that feel like everything is getting on top of me and I want to go into ‘shutdown mode’, days where I feel like everything is going the best it can be and I’m unstoppable, and days where I feel like the stress is a good thing, something that pushes me to do my best work.

I’ve put together my top tips for managing stress in small business. I try to follow these rules as much as possible, but like everyone else, sometimes fail at my own game and let the big S word get the better of me.

Keep your eye on the prize

Begin with the end in mind, and have a clear understanding of what it is you are working towards; be it the small milestone or the massive end-goal. Visualising the prize at the end helps motivate us and cut through the white noise of stress and anxiety.

Break down the tasks for the day, write a list and strike them off as you achieve each milestone. It will help you see that you’re actually making headway and that you’re getting on top of the stress that’s trying to stand in your way.

One of my main motivators is keeping a promise to my parents that I’d buy them a villa in Menorca to spend their retirement in. Whilst I know it isn’t the exact property I’m going to get them, I keep a picture of the type of villa I’d like them to have, and from time-to-time look at it to remind me of what I’m working towards.

Maybe you’ve got a new addition to the family on the way? Maybe you’re looking to buy your first home with your partner? Visualising these things can help you cut through the stress and get your head back in the game.

Take a nap

There’s very few people that work in Cotton Court that haven’t walked in on me taking a cap-nap in a conference room, or found me having a snooze in a reclined car seat on the car park (there’s videos to prove it). But that isn’t because I’m lazy! It’s because I’m being proactive in managing my productivity and stress (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). 

When it all gets too much and I feel like the stress is getting on top of me, I go into ‘shutdown mode’. I can be staring at my screen for 15 minutes with no work being done, desperately trying to squeeze out some productivity. Tight temples, pounding heart and a cluttered mind all work against me, with the frustration of not completing any work adding to my stress levels and completing the vicious circle of work related stress.

When I get to this stage I ‘reset’ my mind and body with a quick 20-30 minute nap. Sometimes I use guided hypnosis videos from YouTube (check out Michael Sealey) to help me declutter my mind, reset my stress levels and get me back in the productive zone.

Why not longer? Have you ever woken up from a nap and felt worse for it? It’s likely because you’ve had too long of a sleep. When you sleep hormones (such as Melatonin amongst others) are released to regulate your sleep cycle, send you into a deep slumber and immobilise your body.

Once you’ve gone into this deep sleep cycle, being woken from it can feel like the morning after a particularly heavy drinking session. Getting just the right amount of sleep is essential to napping. Too much and you will feel worse, too little and you won’t feel the benefits. Experts recommend napping for between 20 – 45 minutes maximum to destress and increase productivity.

Go for a walk

If napping isn’t your style, or you’ve just woken up and need some extra help de-stressing; a walk may be the answer.

It’s important to take regular breaks away from your workspace to rest your mind, refocus your thoughts and declutter your brain. Whilst it works away 24 hours a day, the brain is just like any other part of your body. It needs time to recover from activities and process thoughts.

Just like your computer needs to be reset or shut down from time-to-time, your brain needs sleep, or even just to take a short break from strenuous or taxing activities in order to run at optimal levels.

Go for a walk around the block, to the local park or just pace around the car park to get some fresh air and think about something different than the tasks at hand. It’s absolutely amazing for lowering your stress levels and returning you to a happy and productive place.

You might want to go one step further and factor in breaks as a pre-emptive measure. Last year I had a particularly heavy workload one week, and researched different ways I could manage my stress and productivity in order to ensure I completed the projects on time.

I came across a technique called Pomodoro. It encourages people to work for short timed periods (usually 25 minutes) before taking enforced short breaks. It has a devout following, and has been validated by science as an effective time management technique. Whilst I found it wasn’t something I’d like to do every day of the week, it did help me complete the work at hand and managed my stress levels considerably. I still use it when the workload gets particularly hectic! Look it up and give it a try.

Eat right, drink right

This is a simple one and doesn’t need much explaining. The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ has much truth in it. Ensuring you eat a varied and healthy diet has obvious physiological benefits, but what does it have to do with stress? The link between physical and mental wellbeing has been proven time and time again, but still doesn’t seem to get the recognition within mainstream society. A healthy body will support a healthy mind, and visa versa.

Think of food as the fuel you put into your car. If you don’t put enough in, it runs out and won’t move. If you put the wrong fuel in, it doesn’t work.

The same can be said for water and staying hydrated. Your brain needs water to function, as does the rest of your body. Try to work towards drinking 2 litres of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and keep your brain working at optimal levels.

I keep a big 2.2 litre sports bottle on my desk and aim to drink a full one each day. I’ve found my reliance on things like caffeine lowers, I feel more relaxed and at ease, and I’m more focused.

In short, eat & drink what your body needs in enough quantity with the right quality and it will have a direct benefit in reducing your stress levels.

Work it out

Aside from helping you get buff, increasing your confidence and giving you a good routine, working out releases endorphins and other chemicals that fight stress and increase happiness.

Work out regularly to prevent the onset of stress before it even happens, or to tackle existing stress.

I aim to train every morning before coming into the office, and I find that my first few hours produce some of my best work. I can sometimes do a full days worth of work before lunchtime and I feel absolutely great about it. It helps keep the stress at bay, and even if there are external factors that throw some stress into the mix, I’ve been known to go down to the gym and trash it out on a treadmill or give the heavy bag a good work out (imagining someone else’s face is optional)

Exercise is great for preventing or fighting stress. Give yourself a good workout and I promise it will help those stress levels dwindle.

Finally…

Everyone will have their own way of preventing or dealing with stress. The important thing to note is that you’re going to experience it at some point, whether you’re in business or not, it’s how you handle it that will determine how much it affects you, your business and family.

Establish what works for you, include as part of your daily routine or even just use it as an ‘in case of emergency break glass’ kit for when everything gets too much.

These techniques will certainly help you if applied correctly, but there’s never a true fool-proof way to defeat what nature gave us. If they don’t work, don’t get disheartened. Pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and remember that regardless what’s causing you stress in the first place, you’ve always got the gift of free will, your health, people to support you and remember that even if you can’t see them right now, you’ve always got alternative options.

If you’ve got any ways to deal with stress that we’ve not mentioned here, or want to add to my existing list then please get in touch and let me know! Email me HERE, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Jack Barron

Marketing Director

Living for the weekend?

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6 Ways to Motivate Your Team on a Monday Morning

 

Getting going after a weekend of relaxing or hedonistic pursuits can be a struggle for the best of us. Whether it’s a 2 day hangover or just plain old Monday blues slowing you down at the start of the week, you (and your business!) don’t have to suffer from lost productivity & poor output.

 

We’re taking a quick look at how you can best motivate yourself and your team on Monday morning, to ensure you get back into the groove as quickly as possible.

 

  1. Look Forward

 

Plan in advance on the previous Friday and make a to-do list of the things you NEED to achieve, and the things you WANT to achieve in the following week. Break them down, and while taking into account time critical tasks, set some small and easy tasks for Monday morning to get you going…

 

  1. Ease into it

 

In most cases, so long as there isn’t any time critical tasks that need to be achieved on Monday, you don’t need to start on the biggest things first. Starting with unenjoyable or large tasks can be daunting and demotivating. Psychology tells us that when we experience even small amounts of success, our brains produce dopamine; giving us feelings of pleasure & motivation. It’s these ‘little victories’ that spur us on to finish the monster tasks! Read more here…

 

  1. Flexible working

 

As long as your specific business circumstances allow, you should stagger your employee work times or allow for flexible working whenever possible. Some people just aren’t morning people and this is only going to be exasperated by two days of breaking routine and a rush hour commute. Allowing an employee an extra hour in bed could pay in dividends for your business; meaning you all hit the ground running and give it your all.

 

  1. Get Together

 

Make the time to meet with your team first thing or as soon after you start back after the weekend. Keep it short & sweet, take the time to ask about their weekend and find out any issues they may be having (either personal or work) Monday morning is the perfect time for you as a leader to set the frame for the week ahead, identify and deal with any issues, as well as engaging your team as a leader should. You don’t want to blur the work/personal boundaries too much, but you should have a genuine interest in what your team have been up to, and what’s on their mind. They’ll appreciate you caring, but know if it’s insincere.

 

  1. Remind them of the bigger picture, but don’t forget the milestones

 

It’s easy for people to work in a silo or forget the overall goal they’re working towards. Your Monday meeting is an excellent opportunity to get them fired up for that end of year bonus or awards ceremony, but equally as important of an opportunity to make clear the little goals that will get them there. Set or remind of the small weekly milestones that they can achieve to meet the bigger ones long term.

 

  1. Lead by example

 

Your team look to you for inspiration and example. Even if you’re not feeling the love at 8am on a Monday, get yourself in the right headspace and come in with bags of enthusiasm. Make sure you’re there on time, with the right attitude and practice what you preach. How can you expect your team to do their best work if you’re not making the effort yourself?

Working 9 ’til 5: Is it Time for a Change in Working Hours?

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With flexible working now becoming increasingly popular we take a look at what UK workers think about the standard 9-5 day

More than half (58.6 per cent) of UK workers believe that the traditional 9-5 is an outdated concept, with three quarters (77.2 per cent) admitting that they work better at certain times of day. This is according to a recent study from CV-Library.

The survey of 1,200 professionals explored how the nation’s workers feel about 9-5 working hours, and whether these are still fit for purpose. The data revealed that two thirds (67.6 per cent) would prefer to work hours that suited their natural pattern and when they work best. When asked what time of day they are most productive, respondents cited the following:

In the morning – 64.2%

In the afternoon – 20.9%

In the evening – 9.3%

Late at night – 5.6%

Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, comments, ‘There are ongoing debates surrounding the traditional 9-5 and whether this ‘one size fits all’ approach is still beneficial. It’s clear from the data that UK professionals know their own work patterns and would prefer to tailor their working hours around when they’re at their most productive. Allowing for more flexible hours could be hugely beneficial, not only to employees but also their employers. Something as simple as letting staff start an hour earlier or later depending on their needs could be all it takes.‘That said, flexible working does tend to bring with it issues of work-life balance. Doing away with the structured 9-5 could further blur the lines between work and private life”

By taking this approach, it’s vital that you monitor your employees contracted hours and not putting in too much overtime. According to the study, a whopping 86% of working professionals believe that all companies should offer flexible working and of these 86% only one quarter have the opportunity to work from home when they would like too.

Biggins concludes, ‘Flexible working is becoming increasingly popular, and is, in fact, something many professionals take into consideration when applying for jobs. Businesses need to consider carefully whether they should be offering this style of working, as this could be the key to securing and retaining talented members of staff. Not only this, but with such a huge percentage saying they work better, or just as well, at home, employers can feel safe in the knowledge that they’re getting the most from their workforce, even when they aren’t operating under the traditional 9-5.

Flexible working is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the debate of working hours, with more and more people choosing to work remotely is it time that your company embraces the future?

The Five Common Types of Procrastinator

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The Procrastination Problem

We’ve all been there. You’ve got an important assignment, project or task to complete, and you’re sat doing everything else except the one thing you really should be. Checking Facebook, having a natter, doing the ironing…that my friends is procrastination. The sworn enemy of the small business owner and entrepreneur. 

 

It isn’t just SME’s that are affected by procrastination. Top executives of blue chip companies invest large sums of time and money into defeating their procrastination problem. Silicon Valley tech giant executives are well known for their forward-thinking approach to improving their productivity. They’ve been reported to experiment with everything from meditation and yoga, to trying cognition enhancing (apparently!) drugs. They have tried all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to beat procrastination, improve productivity and increase their creativity. It’s a problem we all face at some time, regardless of how successful we are or stage our business is at.  

 

I myself have suffered bouts of chronic procrastination. I remember the worst being when I was writing my masters dissertation. At 12,000 words in, I was getting in touch with old friends, swiping right on dating apps until my fingers were sore and researching completely unrelated topics on Wikipedia. Everything except finishing the next 10,000 words that were due in less than two weeks. It was frustrating, annoying and extremely stressful. I couldn’t work out why I was self-sabotaging so much, and the more stressed I got about it, the more I did it. It was a vicious cycle, and in the business world, one that can cost a lot of money. Luckily, I finished and printed my dissertation with 20 minutes to spare before the final deadline, and swore I’d never put myself in that position again. 

 

Cotton Court has a history of nurturing small businesses and a track record of helping them grow. One of the main factors that we’ve found stifles growth in SME’s, is a dip or lack of productivity from their main driving force, their owners and managers. That got us thinking how we could help more small business owners, so we’ve created a series of blogs and free downloadable resources to help SME owners improve their productivity. 

 

I’ve eventually found ways to defeat my procrastination when it does rear its ugly head (which it did when writing this blog article!) You can see how in this free e-book that myself and the team at Cotton Court have created, download it HERE now. But in order to treat the symptoms, you first have to diagnose the problem.  

 

The Types of Procrastinator 

 

A recent article by INC, the well-known American online publication for start-ups and SME’s, explains the five common types of procrastinator. Do you fit into any or a number of these categories? Let me know which one you are, drop me an email and I’ll be happy to talk about which type of procrastinator I am and how I overcame it with ease! 

 

  1. The Perfectionist 

 

The perfectionist is always trying to avoid being embarrassed by mistakes and uses the quality of work as an excuse for not finishing it. This procrastinator is very common, hiding behind high standards to negate any negative perceptions of work not being completed. These procrastinators may spend too much time on one component of the overall project, or leave it all to the last minute.  

 

  1. The Imposter

 

The imposter is the procrastinator who is afraid of being revealed as unqualified, inferior or out of their depth. Putting off work helps them avoid the risk of being ‘found out’. If you’re suffering from this type of procrastination, it may well be that you’re surrounded by people who are hard to please or that you perceive to be better at/know more about your job than you. 

 

  1. The Dread-Filled

 

I’m a big believer that you produce your best work when you enjoy it and find it interesting. It’s the ultimate motivator, and getting started (and keeping at it!) is mostly easy. However, sometimes we all have those tasks and jobs to do that we just don’t want to do, so we put them off. These are the dread-filled procrastinators.  Most people will fall into this category at some point or another. 

 

  1. The Overwhelmed 

 

When you’re faced with a lot of work, it’s quite often hard to figure out where to start. This means sometimes we just don’t start at all! Or at least not for a while. It may be that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, your boss is piling on the work or that you’ve just not managed your time effectively. 

 

  1. The Lucky

 

The Lucky are the procrastinators who do it without fear. They think they do their best work with short deadlines and under pressure. Personally, I think this type of procrastinator is a cop out. More often than not, they’re likely to be one of the other 4 types of procrastinator, hiding behind another excuse for not getting the work done and effectively managing their time. It might be that they’ve had a history of working this way without any negative consequences and therefore in their mind it works for them, but they’re likely to get caught out one day.  

 

 The Solution

So now you’ve seen the main five types of procrastinator, which one do you feel you’re most like? Are you a strong mix of a few of them, or maybe you’ve got a recommendation for more types of procrastinator? Let us know! 

 

Now you’ve identified your type of procrastination and the reason you do it, you can work towards defeating it when it arises. Like an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend, you’re always going to bump into it when you least want to. It’s not something that can be cured. It’s how you handle it when it arises that matters the most. Luckily, along with the rest of the team at Cotton Court, I’ve created a free e-book… 

 

Brain Hacking: The 5 Steps for Beating Procrastination

 

It’s the first in a series of free e-books we’ve created to help SME owners and entrepreneurs increase their productivity. It gives our 5-step process for defeating procrastination and increasing productivity.  

 

Procrastination and dips in your productivity can cost you and your business time and money. Luckily there’s a few simple things you can do to ensure that you’re on the ball, and focus on those essential profit winning activities.  

 

I hope this blog has been insightful and in some way, helps you to overcoming your procrastination and productivity issues. Best of luck!